Advances in Brain-Computer Interface TechnologyTechnological innovations are making life manageable for people with physical impairments.
By: Eddy Urena, Sibley Scribe
There are now devices than can allow someone who has lost his / her sight to see again. There are devices that can help someone who has been paralyzed to regain function of whatever part of his / her body again. These devices, such as retinal implants and robotic arms, are generally connected to the human brain (or nervous system) to allow the brain or neuron signals to interact directly with them. This idea goes back to the 1920s, but serious research really dates to the 1970s. These devices started off as research tools implanted into various animals, such as monkeys and pigs. Such research evolved so much that these devices started appearing in human beings in the mid 1990’s, and are used now by paralyzed people, people with hearing loss, people who have gone blind.
Essentially, these BCI, or Brain-Computer Interface, devices work by creating a direct pathway between the human brain and an external device (such as a prosthetic arm). Thanks to the plasticity of the brain (it’s ability to be moved around and to adapt), signals can be sent to the implanted prosthetic device similarly to the way a normal brain would send these electric signals to an arm or other body part.
Researchers at Brown University have created the first wireless, implantable, rechargeable, long-term brain-computer interface. Up to now, they had to be linked somehow to a computer. For now, it’s only used in animals, but it allows scientists to look at brain activity when this animal is involved in more complex activities than just moving its arm or leg. So, more data can be gathered since the animal can move around freely. The hope is for this to be applied to humans eventually, allowing them to perform tasks far beyond just feeding themselves
The new BCI resembles a pacemaker – it has a battery, a charging loop, a chip that digitizes the signals from the brain and an antenna that transmits those signals to a computer.
The BCI has is very energy efficient in that consumes a very small amount of power, just 100 milliwatts. This enables all-day, mobile usage. The clear signals it receives from the brain may also help with neuroscience and research. The BCI has helped humans in many ways. It has allowed paralyzed people to care for themselves by performing basic functions. This can also help people to study the motor cortex of animals with Parkinson’s disease. These researchers at Brown University hope to make the device smaller, and more safe and reliable.
Sources used for this article include the website www.extremetech.com and the article Brown University Creates First Wireless, Implanted Brain-Computer Interface by Sebastian Anthony.